Although they tour abroad relatively frequently, it is quite rare for the choir of Westminster Abbey to make a concert appearance in London and it is strange how incongruous their red robes appear outside of a church setting. Although billed as a programme of music for Advent and Christmas, there was little sense of festive fun, with the entire first half dedicated to music by the most prominent English Renaissance composers.

The choir is relatively large by modern standards with 22 trebles and 12 men singing countertenor, tenor and bass. They created a sufficiently big sound to fill the hall, however, the considerably drier acoustic did have an impact on the sound quality. The treble lines lacked the ethereal, floating quality that is aided by a resonant church acoustic, consequently their lines sounded both forced and clipped at times.

The concert opened with works by Byrd, Tallis and Sheppard, composers whose works were shaped by the cultural impact of the Reformation. Their works exemplify the intricate contrapuntal writing and complex text-setting of the pre-Reformation Catholic tradition, a style which they never wholly relinquished even while they were employed in the service of the reformed Church of England.

The opening three works, Byrd’s Vigilate, Tallis’ Videte miraculum and Sheppard’s Verbum caro factum est were all given largely accurate readings, although at times they lacked musicality and a sense of cohesion in the sometimes rhapsodic, flowing nature of Renaissance vocal lines. The choir impressed more in the Magnificat from Byrd’s Great Service, with a clearer sense of structure and generally accomplished duos and trios in the chamber-like sections. The treble solos were not always precise but that is to be expected even for a choir of such renown.

The final two works Bull’s Almighty God and Gibbons’ See, See the Word is Incarnate were the most impressive over all. The chamber organ accompaniment provided by Daniel Cook had a stabilising effect and brought more warmth to the sound. Overall, the first half of the concert felt overly long particularly when some of the works lacked polish. A brief foray into this important musical period would have been sufficient and perhaps allowed for more assured performances.

The second half of the concert explored 20th century works and the tone lightened a little. The choir opened with Poulenc’s Quartre motets pour le temps de Noël. Once described by a critic as 'half-monk, half-rascal'; these pieces show Poulenc’s sincere, devotional side. The choir adopted a delicate approach to these pensive works. Poulenc’s writing seemed to suit the acoustics of the hall better than the earlier works.

After tackling the exuberant Hodie Christus natus est that concludes Poulenc’s Motets, the programme failed to capitalise on the momentum generated by perhaps the first significant tempo change of the concert, with performances of Howell’s A Spotless Rose and a recently-commissioned piece by Matthew Martin, Dormi Jesu. The choir created a rich, expressive sound, coupled with an accomplished baritone solo in the Howells. The audience seemed perplexed by the Martin piece, failing to clap due to the lack of cadence at the end of the piece.

The audience was notably more responsive for the closing pieces of the concert which featured more populist works such as The Little Road of Bethlehem and a few John Rutter favourites. Lively and sharply executed renditions of Gardner’s Tomorrow shall be my dancing day and Parry’s Welcome, Yule! provided refreshing changes of pace which brought the concert to an energetic conclusion.

The choir should be applauded for tackling such an extensive programme amongst their heavy workload, but as the rapturous response to their encore of Ding Dong Merrily on High suggested, a shorter, lighter programme might have been less tiring for choir and audience alike.