Generally, recombinant and native microorganisms can be employed as whole-cell catalysts. The application of native hosts, however, shortens the process development time by avoiding multiple steps of strain construction. Herein, we studied the NAD(P)H-dependent reduction of o-chloroacetophenone by isolated xylose reductases and their native hosts Candida tenuis and Pichia stipitis. The natural hosts were benchmarked against Escherichia coli strains co-expressing xylose reductase and a dehydrogenase for co-enzyme recycling. Xylose-grown cells of C. tenuis and P. stipitis displayed specific o-chloroacetophenone reductase activities of 366 and 90 U gCDW–1, respectively, in the cell-free extracts. Fresh biomass was employed in batch reductions of 100 mM o-chloroacetophenone using glucose as co-substrate. Reaction stops at a product concentration of about 15 mM, which suggests sensitivity of the catalyst towards the formed product. In situ substrate supply and product removal by the addition of 40% hexane increased catalyst stability. Optimisation of the aqueous phase led to a (S)-1-(2-chlorophenyl)ethanol concentration of 71 mM (ee > 99.9%) obtained with 44 gCDW L–1 of C. tenuis. The final difference in productivities between native C. tenuis and recombinant E. coli was < 1.7-fold. The optically pure product is a required key intermediate in the synthesis of a new class of chemotherapeutic substances (polo-like kinase 1 inhibitors).