The seats were all filled, and the aisles were packed for the annual Christmas Concert last night in the Crypt Church of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Very likely most of the people were there for Handel's "Messiah," which was presented in a somewhat abbreviated version. But "Messiahs" are not hard to find at this time of year and the program had an intriguing novelty: a new cantata composed by Leo Nestor, music director of the National Shrine's choir, commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council.
Like the council, Nestor's "In the Fullness of Time: Epistle and Hymn" is essentially conservative, though clearly of the 20th century. Its text is drawn primarily from St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians, and in form it is rather like a Bach cantata, alternating solo and choral movements and ending with a chorale in four-part harmony. It is composed with impressive skill and was performed expertly by the Choir of the National Shrine and the Catholic University Symphony Orchestra and Chorus with the composer conducting.
Eight vocal soloists were used, most of whom were also listed as chorus members. The voices were all good, though sometimes imperfectly controlled and showing occasional signs of what might have been nervousness. The choral and orchestral performances were first-class.