David Hoose, music director of the Cantata Singers, noticed something unusual when he began to study the Requiem by Herbert Howells, a British composer known chiefly for liturgical music. He became interested in the Requiem, written for unaccompanied voices, because of another Howells piece — “Take Him, Earth, for Cherishing,” written in memory of President Kennedy — that the Cantata Singers performed two seasons ago. Even though he knew nothing of the Requiem’s background, he found something about the music odd.
“I kept having this feeling in the piece that there was something reluctant about the music,” said Hoose by phone recently. “I’d never had this feeling in a piece before. It was almost as if he were hesitating to put down that next note, that next harmony, that next decision. Not uncertainty, but hesitancy — not wanting to do it.”