The theme of tonight’s concert, revealed the programme notes, was that of “marking time and preserving timeless values” – Christmas being a season that connects the past with the present. Musically, there were several strands to the programme that were supposed to demonstrate this theme: contrasting settings of the same text composed centuries apart, contemporary arrangements of ancient festive folk tunes, and juxtapositions of modern and renaissance carols with similar messages. With strong leadership from Harry Christophers, the Sixteen presented us with a refreshingly varied take on the usual festive repertoire, their performance full of energy and vibrancy.

Whatever the ideology behind the concert, it certainly made for an imaginative programme, which was organised into thematic sections to create a loose narrative. To open, Vaughan Williams’ ethereal This is the truth sent from above provided a prologue to the nativity story with God’s promise of redemption for man through his Son. Although the soft unison of the first verse could have been a rather cautious way to begin, in fact it created a wonderful contrast with Josquin’s full-bodied Praeter rerum seriem that followed. Here the polyphonic lines enveloped the measured cantus firmus (a pre-existing plainchant melody), weaving a rich tapestry of sound that completely filled the church.

The next three lullabies were particularly enchanting. David Willcocks’ 1961 arrangement of Rocking, the traditional East-Central European melody, gave us a charming solo from soprano Charlotte Mobbs – who was to return later in equally fine form. The subtle discords towards the end of each verse kept the audience on their toes in this warmingly familiar carol. In contrast, Byrd’s Lullaby my sweet little baby – while still setting the scene of the newborn infant Jesus – introduced an element of disquiet into the calm surroundings. The minor-mode consort song switched between duple and triple time as an unknown narrator took over from Mary’s soft lullaby, describing the atrocities committed by King Herod. Similarly, in Howells’ Sing Lullaby, the initial uneasy oscillating harmonies and the climactic fourth line (“The naked blackthorn’s growing to weave his diadem”) indicated that all would not be well for the newborn child.

The story continued with Thomas Ravenscroft’s 1611 Remember, O thou man – telling the tale of the shepherds who visited Bethlehem to meet their Messiah. Its simple strophic structure and unhurried tempo rendered the text of utmost importance; indeed, the first verse issued us a dire warning to repent of our sins. To maintain musical interest each verse was presented in a slightly different arrangement: in unison, four-part harmony, or with a gentle hummed accompaniment. Arthur Oldham’s 1963 version of the same text inevitably provided a huge harmonic and melodic contrast, alternating soprano and tenor solos with livelier choral sections – though its sentiment was unchanged from Ravenscroft’s.

The well-known Coventry Carol was likewise performed in two completely different settings. The original wistful tune of 1591 (likely much older) was undoubtedly familiar to listeners, with some deliciously discordant clashes adding to the emotion. In 1956 Kenneth Leighton created an entirely new arrangement of the same text for his mournful Lully, lulla, thou little tiny child. The ensemble placed extra intensity on the second verse - which described the chilling story of King Herod’s Massacre of the Innocents – their stormy delivery amplified by the grand acoustic.

A special focus on Jesus’ mother Mary played on her symbolic association with the rose – an idea that emerged in the early Christian church. Howells’ well-proportioned A Spotless Rose was arguably the highlight of the evening, having received an extra appreciative applause from the audience. Among some haunting harmonies, Ben Davies’ baritone solo was perfectly expressive – there was a particularly exceptional moment where the choir left him hanging alone on the final note of the second verse. The delicate renaissance harmonies of the authorless 15th-century carol There is no rose were no disappointment following the Howells. In this early English polyphonic carol, soprano Charlotte Mobbs shone again in a duet with tenor Simon Berridge, demonstrating impeccable timing and intonation.

The evening ended with two delightful encores: the tranquil Quem pastores laudavere was followed by a joyful rendition of Gaudete with fitting medieval tambourine accompaniment. Overall, the evening boasted a well-compiled programme and was a decidedly tasteful introduction to the festive season.