In the 1920s Alfred Hertz used to raise the roof of the intimate Curran Theater on San Francisco’s Geary Street with his exuberant Symphony performances. My mother sat in the balcony on Friday afternoons and remembers especially “Papa” Hertz’s fondness for “the kitchen,” the percussion section, and one might add the tuba after listening to his seriously brassy recordings with the neat and ingratiating San Francisco band of that era – the concertmaster, by the way, was Michel Piastro who went on to Toscanini’s New York Philharmonic. The Curran was a legitimate house, so after those Friday matinees the orchestral shell had to be struck so the play of the evening – perhaps with George Arliss, one of whose vehicles became the title of a famous salad, Green Goddess – could go on the boards.

Bald, bearded, bespectacled, and lame — and game too, one should say — Hertz was a true craftsman, a micro-tad heavy now and then in his musicmaking (although the vivid razzing of Bottom as registered in an emphatic moment of his Midsummer Night’s Dream overture could not be more amusing) but rarely at a loss when rhythmic grace or a potent climax was required. Like Henry Wood he had a big repertoire light and heavy and knew how to make a piece go. We’ll try to forgive him an overdose of portamento in an otherwise satisfying recording of Wagner’s first act Tristan prelude!

Hertz was particularly known for his connection to Parsifal – he conducted the first staged performances outside Bayreuth at the Met in 1903 – also the Hollywood Bowl, where because the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s musical director Walter Rothwell looked down on outdoor concerts he became that institutions’s leading maestro, the Father of the Bowl.  Hertz could not avoid being cast as a paternal – or is it uncle-y? – figure: that beard and cane made him a sort of Biedermeier cousin to Lionel Barrymore. Recently the wonders of CD re-mastering have brought to hissing but stunning life Hertz’ 1913 recording with Nikisch’s Berlin Philharmonic of a symmetrical suite from Parsifal: the first act prelude, two Transformation scenes and the Good Friday Spell. Hertz looks deep in the prelude, the performance is admirably taut and mellow, with sizzling string tremolos and striking brass. The act 1 Transformation is suitably ecstatic, the climax huge.

A number of Hertz’ San Francisco Symphony recordings were made in a tight little studio in outer Oakland across the bay, which means the orchestra packed itself onto a big white ferry boat (sandwiches available, but no beer alas!) to reach their sessions. The 1928 Midsummer Night’s Dream, done back in The City at the Columbia-now-the ACT Geary Theater also includes a nicely phrased while speedily groove-conscious  Nocturne, and a Wedding March so jubilant one feels like applauding at its grand conclusion, brass riffs piled high as a seven layer cake. What couple has had a sendoff like this? — and if Mendelssohn only knew how many Exits Matrimoniales he’d provided for. Electrical microphones could pick up a lot, but they seem not to have caught the squealing wheels of the B and C streetcars out on Geary Street just a few yards away, and then of course the silvery roast beef trolleys at the posh Clift Hotel up the street were scored triple piano.

Also from Hertz is a sound and pizzazzy Liszt Les Préludes with a suspenseful introduction and pensive dolce innings, but my desert island disc from the Hertz/San Francisco Symphony partnership is a bubbly, sunlit account of Glazounov’s great salon piece the Valse de Concert No. 1. This is music to go with a Sonja Henie skiing film, it exudes that tingly something that tickles pre-pubescents with cozy, mysterious feelings they can’t explain. Calling Dr. Kinsey! Such a pity no major conductor of the early twenty-first century will touch this piece.

And now a bulletin: I’ve been presented with a set of Mark Obert-Thorn’s marvelous re-masterings of the Hertz/SFS oeuvre and they give you a more vivid you are there picture than I would have thought possible. Now we know beyond the shadow of a Mendelssohnian doubt that this was a very disciplined orchestra and its conductor a most engaging and creative force. The nicely lubricated tempos of a mellow Freischuetz overture, for instance: these are enchanting. Hertz can take his place with the mesmerizing Nicholas Harnoncourt in this pastoral/romantical music. Then in Beethoven’s Third Leonore in the dungeon introduction he evokes Florestan’s damn-I’m-about-to-faint, the music becoming palpably weak. but he conjures a warm, hopeful second theme in the allegro, rescue is just up the sonata form road, then there’s a positively Stokowskian morendo as the second trumpet call recedes, ominously-poetically, and my how flutist Anthony Linden shades his tiptoe solo a little later on, with unscripted mini-diminuendi of cozy joy, a veritable argot of phraseological felicity. Unique!

And in the Midsummer Night’s Dream overture — in which Hertz’ tempo arrangements are virtually identical to Toscanini’s flexible ones in his ‘51 NBC broadcast — well shame! I hadn’t noticed before how subtly and constructively Hertz uses portamento to convey the wistfulness of lovers when the main fortissimo theme from Letter A returns mid-overture in intimate guise. Forgive the pun, it’s such a herz-felt moment.