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Exclusive Book & Movie Reviews: Herman Berlinski's Avodat Shabbat Milken Archive of American Jewish Music, Naxos, (2005), $6.98

by Stephanie Persin

Avodat Shabbat is one of Herman Berlinski's final contributions to American Jewish music. Berlinski, who died in 2001, was known for both his secular and Judaic compositions. His secular music, however, always contained pieces of his Jewish heritage. Berlinski received many awards during his career, including the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Guild of Organists, and the Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit from the president of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Avodat Shabbat is part of the collection of the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music. The disc is more than seventy-two minutes and it contains twenty-two Shabbat songs. The symphony plays at times in swelling harmony, and at other times as barely audible background music. The talented voice parts (Robert Brubaker, Constance Hauman, and Elizabeth Shammash) sing well both with the symphony and a cappella.

The most impressive voice in the piece is that of tenor, Robert Brubaker. It is Brubaker's sound that brings an operatic tone to Berlinski's music. Brubaker's voice, along with the well-trained chorus, turn this Friday evening service into, "Shabbat: The Musical." The listener should be forewarned; Avodat Shabbat is not "Fiddler on the Roof." Do not expect to be able to sing along with this CD.

Much of Berlinski's composition is based on traditional and very recognizable tunes. He has the ability to intermix traditional sound with a style that is rather unconventional. While the music itself is very moving, it is probably best to listen to this CD around the Shabbat dinner table, or when preparing to pray. This is not the music to listen to when stuck in traffic or when waking up in the morning.

Still, Berlinski's Avodat Shabbat serves its purpose. It makes the classical Friday evening service into a production that showcases the talent of this great Jewish composer. It is clear that Berlinski's music belongs in a collection of great American Jewish music.

The disc comes with a detailed booklet that describes the life and achievements of Herman Berlinski. It also contains English translations of the Friday evening prayers. More information is available on the Milken Archive website. The Milken Archive contains a collection of American Jewish music that represents both Jewish and secular contributions of great Jewish artists. We will be reviewing more from this collection in the coming weeks.