I Cantori’s holiday program Saturday night was not exactly a routine, carol-happy Christmas concert.
It started with the cool, pure mezzo-soprano of Kerry Walsh ringing through the pleasingly reverberant Pasadena Presbyterian Church as an all-male chorus answered in dignified, timeless medieval chant. It ended with many of the choristers in costume chasing an adorable dragon through the pews, after which our mezzo-soprano, now clad in little more than filmy veils, performed a hootchy-kootchy dance worthy of Salome herself.
The reader no doubt is burning with curiosity about the latter, so we’ll start with that. It was I Cantori director Edward Cansino’s staging of the 16th-Century mummer’s play, “St. George and the Dragon,” using medieval carols as incidental music.
While the level of this 23-minute “drama” was not far above that of your average high school play, it was harmless fun once you accepted the premise that this kind of activity was performed house-to-house centuries ago.
The King of Egypt and his sultry daughter Sabra (hence the veiled dancer) are incidental characters in this version, and all were accompanied by the piquant combination of recorders (both wind and tape), pipe organ, trombone, drum and hurdy-gurdy. The dragon was a cute, shambling thing of green shreds and patches; one rooted for him to get the better of pompous old St. George for a change.
Vocal credibility was established early on by I Cantori’s seamlessly unified 11-voice male chorus, which made fluent work of a collection of mostly Renaissance religious music. In William Byrd’s canonic “Make ye joy to God” the voices tumbled gloriously throughout the church, and Cristobal Morales’ “Magnificat secundi toni” found Walsh and I Cantori engaging in an ethereal call-and-response dialogue.
Exercising his ear for the offbeat, Cansino also inserted a delightful Brazilian chant, “Sa qui turo zente pleta,” with Timm Boatmann’s syncopated drum undercurrent. Alas, organist Edward Murray’s rendition of J. S. Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in E was smeared to the point where, with apologies, he had to go back and restart the fugue’s peroration.