Bringing choral music to Oxford is rather like crashing a convention of diabetics with a box of doughnuts – superfluous at best, outright dangerous at worst. Our city boasts more choirs per square metre than almost any other, and with choral alumni including the Tallis Scholar and The Sixteen, the bar is set high indeed.

Friday’s concert was, however, a timely reminder of the potentially superb quality of the choral singing from across the Atlantic. The VocalEssence Ensemble Singers are fully paid-up members of America’s choral Ivy League; now celebrating its 40th anniversary, the choir boasts a cabinet of awards and past collaborations with everyone from Aaron Copland to John Rutter.

In a programmme celebrating the US’s choral heritage, roaming through almost three centuries of national repertoire from both the folk and art traditions, the choir proved themselves sophisticated tour guides.

VocalEssence have a blend that could – and should – be the envy of every choir in the business. With more than 30 singers, the choir’s vocal capacity is potentially overpowering, yet under the meticulous direction of Philip Brunelle their sound is full but never strident, while at the same time maintaining a striking clarity of texture and articulation.

These skills came into their own in the contemporary art music of Stephen Paulus and Eric Whitacre, whose delicately shifting textures and dense vertical harmonies depend so critically upon a choir’s inner balance and tone quality, and made for a particularly polished performance of the latter’s miniature choral epic, Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine, with its filigree gestures and textural drama.

Less successful, however, were the spirituals and folksong arrangements that provided the programme’s more traditional elements. Performed with a precision and sensitivity that was almost aggressive in its exactitude, they lacked the sense of spontaneous outpouring and emotional generosity demanded by songs such as Ching-A-Ring-Chaw or Witness or Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, if they are to be truly effective.

Somewhere among their technical virtuosity and tasteful interpretation VocalEssence lost that crucial chink of humanity with its raw and rudely cut edges; the perfectly formed yet slightly over-polished result, despite its undeniable elegance, proved ultimately a little too – dare I say it? – English.