Bruce Stoller plays the paino every Friday and Saturday at the Westin La Paloma, and his CD, On the Loose, Vol. 1, seems aimed to please the people who've heard him while sipping a drink or having an early dinner at the resort. The fare includes original tunes and pop pieces, and nearly half of it is the sort of classical repertory that people who know just a little about classical music really love, and people who know a lot about classical music grumble that they've heard too often.
In the classical pieces, aside from a rather overbearing version of Schubert's "Serenade," Stoller happily avoids the beefy, oppressive style of playing adopted by too many "society pianists" trying to prove they're legit. His way with Mozart's "Turkish Rondo" is not too dainty, not too aggressive; and his reading of the famous first movement of Beethoven's "Moonlight" Sonata is surprisingly quiet, ruminative and private (he plays the other two movements in a far more extroverted manner).
If Stoller lays it on a bit thick in familiar excerpts from Rachmaninov's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and Piano Concerto No. 2, well, that's what his fans probably expect, and the music easily survives--indeed, the scores pretty much ask for it. Stoller's Chopin doesn't come off quite so well; a couple of runs in the C-sharp minor waltz are uneven, and Stoller seems impatient to get through the music--as he does in the otherwise appealing "Linus and Lucy" of Vince Guaraldi.
Stoller's performances of his own compositions are obviously authoritative; these include three restless, Impressionistic preludes with titles like "Baja Seaside" and "Distant Space," and a fast, pulsing piece called "Special Rider," something of a cross between Michael Nyman and Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Two full items from Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera--standard piano-bar fare--show up here, as does, more unexpectedly, Jay Ungar's touching "Ashokan Farewell," which fares very well under Stoller's hands, except perhaps for some gratuitous cocktail-piano flourishes near the end. Perfectly at home under Stoller's fingers are Gershwin's "Rialto Ripples," Confrey's "Dizzy Fingers" and Kern's "The Way You Look Tonight."
If there's a Volume 2 on the way, Stoller would be smart to hire a proofreader. Contrary to Volume 1's packaging, there's a U in Guaraldi, two Bs in Lloyd Webber, a central A rather than O in Rachmaninov and an A rather than E in Ungar, and the composer of "The Way You Look Tonight" is Jerome, not Jay, Kern. Similar curiosities appear in the liner notes.
Stoller's fans probably aren't going to care, though. Indeed, they'll barely look at the packaging. This is a CD designed not for library study, but for bringing elegance to the dinner hour--something Stoller does in person every week at the resort.