Whether intentionally or not, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment has done Christianity’s street cred a great service this week. As the St Paul’s protest furore continues to grow, the orchestra’s performance of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis was a reminder that for the composer and countless others, religion is first and foremost about the comfort of spirituality. Conductor Gianandrea Noseda and the Philharmonia Chorus joined the OAE and four vocal soloists for this great big Christian Hug in a Mug.

Beethoven considered the Missa Solemnis, a setting of the Catholic Mass, to be his best work. Although originally intended for liturgical use, the composer extended the piece to a length which made this impossible. The piece became known as an oratorio, an opera without staging, although the composer never forgot his original intention, writing to a friend: “My chief aim was to awaken and permanently instil religious feelings not only into the singers but also into the listeners.” Nearly two centuries since its publication, the Missa continues to inspire feelings of calm and serenity, even without the accompanying spirituality.

The Orchestra, known for its exuberant and lively performances, found their perfect match in the ebullient Noseda. The resulting performance was full-blooded and enormously colourful, whilst their more gentle period instruments allowed the texture to remain clear and generally provided sensitive accompaniment for both chorus and soloists. The haunting tone of Principal Flautist Lisa Beznosiuk was a highlight, as was the superlative performance of the extended and challenging violin solo in the Benedictus, performed by leader Matthew Truscott. The orchestra is always dazzling for the amount of colour they are able to squeeze from their temperamental instruments; last night was no exception, although some intonation issues crept in towards the end of the ninety-minute Mass.

The unusual length of the piece also caused some problems for the four soloists, again with intonation. The performance began well, with a bewitchingly beautiful reading of the quartet in the Kyrie, and bass Patrick Schramm shone throughout thanks to his rich tone and expressive capabilities. The soaring line of the soprano part in the closing Agnus Dei could have taken far more power than Anne Ellersiek could provide, although her pure tone was pleasing elsewhere.

The Philharmonia Chorus, however, did not lack punch: the Chorus excels at powerful forte singing, particularly in the higher voices. The men were occasionally swamped by this power; however their energetic contribution to the lively Gloria complemented Noseda’s daring tempo and animated technique very well. Due in part to their period instruments, the OAE is particularly good at Beethoven’s spine-tingling ends of phrases, where the music fades away to a memory: it was a shame that Chorus Master Stefan Bevier did not take this more into account, as ragged endings from the choir sometimes ruined this effect.

Prematurely or not, the festive season is now nearly upon us: what better way to celebrate than to withdraw from the High Street and curl up in front of the gloriously cosy Missa Solemnis – perhaps this could be suggested as an alternative protest?