Braun (1886-1960) studied in Berlin in 1904. It’s a measure
of the faith placed in him that he was singing Fafner at Bayreuth
a mere two years later, returning in 1908 and 1909. His career
launched he sang widely – at the Hofoper in Vienna and at the
newly established Deutsches Opernhaus in Berlin and in Amsterdam.
His Bayreuth success had established him as a Wagnerian and
Bayreuth claimed him repeatedly, though there was a gap of over
a decade between 1912 and 1924 because he was contracted by
the Met in New York between 1912 and 1917. He then suffered
being interned in 1917 on the United States’ entry into the
War and only managed to return to Germany in 1919. He was still
securely on the international circuit in 1931 – usually singing
Wagner – but in 1933 he turned to his old stamping ground, the
Deutsches Opernhaus, as singer/director. By 1937 he was a concert
agent, though he was only fifty-one. He died in Hamburg in 1960.
Braun’s period in
the recording studios was actually very brief. The period 1911
to 1923 is right but tells only part of the story, the bulk
of recordings having been made between 1911 and 1914 and then
in 1923. He made a few sides for American Columbia in 1916 of
which one, Wilhelm Hill’s stirring Das Herz am Rhein
is presented here. It was the War and his period at the Met
which limited his opportunities in the studios. It would have
been good to have heard him electrically but by then he had
been overtaken by his contemporaries. His main claim to discographic
fame is that he was the first to record Wotan’s narrative from
Act II of Die Walküre and it’s this and the other Wagnerian
sides that offer the greatest rewards and alert us to his important
place at Bayreuth and beyond.
His was a noble
voice, but one perhaps more static than colouristic in the Mozart
extracts. The technique is quite adequate across the range.
He was called on to sing two extracts from Halévy’s Die Jüdin
– sung in German of course – and whilst it’s certainly unusual
to hear him in this repertory, and whilst the voice is once
more dignified and well supported, his phrasing lacks imagination.
His Weber shows strong evidence of his characterful bass and
the flecks of humour are welcome, if sometimes he can be a touch
gruff and stolid. The Lortzing should have been much more his
thing but I find he blusters unmercifully in O, ich bin klug
But it really is
Wagner that is the centre of gravity here. There are deficiencies.
He shows some weakness at the top in the 1913 Odeon Lohengrin
extract and his monochrome delivery – at least as it comes across
on this 1914 disc - is a demerit in his Rheingold. The
famous Die Walküre extract is sonorous, imposing and
masculine but lacking rather in variety of tone and colour,
a besetting sin of his. The later 1923 sides show the voice
having darkened and deepened but it’s still the same virile
if rather immobile instrument of old. I find actually that the
Vox 1923 Lohengrin shows him in an artistically superior
light to the earlier 1911-14 sequence. Maybe the voice is not
quite as steady as of old but the artistry has gained insight.
It’s a pity we have to leave him at this juncture – he was only
thirty-seven when he made his last recordings.
I’ve happily pillaged
Preiser’s customarily good and concise biographical notes. The
transfers are unproblematic and sensitively done and there are
three evocative postcard reproductions as well. In all this
is a fine salute to an important artist.