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Hallel (praise) is a section of the liturgy that is made up of Psalms 113–118, or of verses from these Psalms. Adonai z’kharanu is the text incipit of verses 12–18 of Psalm 115. The Hallel—whose verses pertain to the theme of collective praise for God and His attributes of dependability, mercy, and ultimate wisdom—is recited or sung in the synagogue as part of the liturgy on festive or jubilant holy days—as well as on Hanukka.
Alexander Olshanetsky did not necessarily compose this setting of Adonai z'kharanu exclusively for Hanukka, and indeed it achieved popularity through its performance on a Passover Seder recording by Moishe Oysher. Yet it is no more related to Passover than to Hanukka or any other occasion for Hallel. Its performance history includes both Shabbat Hanukka services and Hanukka concerts, some under Olshanetsky’s baton.
Like much choral music written for traditional or orthodox synagogues in America during the first half of the 20th century, this setting draws unabashedly upon popular Jewish theatrical effects; yet those features, together with the overall popular choral style and emotionally evocative melodies, were prominent in the repertoire of many late-19th-century eastern European synagogue choirs—not, of course, in the sophisticated and relatively Westernized choral synagogues in Russia, the Ukraine, or Poland, but in smaller communities and among celebrated itinerant choirs and cantors. In that respect, if it reflects Olshanetsky the popular Yiddish songwriter, it follows equally in the path of a number of eastern European immigrant synagogue composers whose work was devoted almost exclusively to the liturgy—such cantor-composers as Zeidl Rovner, Joshua Lind, and Isaac Kaminsky, for whom both drama and uncomplicated melody were paramount concerns.
The rendition here, combining children’s and men’s voices for the SATB choral format but without women’s voices, is aurally representative of a choral ambiance once typical of orthodox synagogues in America as well as Europe.