Meir Finkelstein’s setting of the prayer text uv’khen yitkadash (And thus may/will Your name [adonai, be hallowed . . . ]) for the musaf services on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is a welcome contribution to the High Holy Day repertoire. Few American composers have addressed this prayer, and American cantors and choirs have relied for the most part on European settings in traditional molds. The most ubiquitous of those is the composition by the 19th-century cantor-composer Josef Goldstein (1836–1899), who served in Budapest and published the piece in Vienna in a collection of High Holy Day music dedicated to the last monarch of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Hapsburg emperor Franz Josef. The setting is now known almost exclusively in its subsequently expanded arrangements, most notably the intricate one by Max Grauman, a European cantor who immigrated to America and served the pulpit of the new West End Synagogue in New York (now Congregation Shaaray Tefila).
Finkelstein’s interpretation is appropriately dramatic, though more straightforward and direct than that of Goldstein or others emanating from Europe; and, of course, unlike those others, it reflects contemporary harmonic language, including subdued use of jazz chords. Passages of resolute majesty alternate with others of quiet delicacy. The engaging contrapuntal soprano-alto duet at the words b’ein melitz yosher (Since there is no righteous advocate to [plead our cause . . .]), which is repeated by the full choir with greater intensity, echoes the reverent supplication that concludes the prayer. Whether by design or unconsciously, Finkelstein has perpetuated a tradition followed in previous European settings by introducing these words with fresh musical material to establish a contrasting supplicatory mood.
And thus, may Your name be sanctified, O Lord our God, among Israel Your people; in Jerusalem, Your city; and in Zion, the sanctuary of Your glory; within the royal house of David, Your anointed one; and in Your great and holy Sanctified shrine. For our sake, O Lord, remember still the love of Abraham, our heroic ancestor; and remember, too, Isaac his son, who was bound on the altar as a willing sacrifice, and rid us of our foes for his sake; and, remembering the merit of our father, Jacob, who was completely human, let our case come before You, Awesome One, and be decided to our merit and benefit; for this day is holy for You, our God. When there is none to plead our cause against the words of the accuser, Lord may You speak for Jacob (Israel) in matters of law and justice and justify our claims in this judgment – O King of judgment.
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