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John Whitmore
MusicWeb International, December 2014

This disc will bring a lot of pleasure to those who enjoy Bloch’s work. Hong-Mei Xiao is splendid and…the CD is attractive. © 2014 MusicWeb International Read complete review

Brian Wigman
Classical Net, November 2013

You would think that a piece written in 1923 for viola and piano wouldn’t have to wait until 2005 for a decent arrangement for viola and orchestra. Yet such is the fate of Baal Shem. So we owe a lot of credit to dual violist and arranger Hong-Mei Xiao for her commitment to the cause. In any event, Bloch usually only gets credit for his “Jewish music”…and so rather than avoid that fact, Xiao and Naxos relish it will three suitably exotic works of varying far-east flavors.

Whatever your thoughts on the “Jewish” or “Eastern” nature of the music, you can’t deny that it is well-crafted, drenched in color, and worthy of further exposure. Nor can you escape the fact that Xiao is a simply wonderful player, fully attuned to the various moods of the composer…The disc lasts just over an hour, and yet the music never tires the ear. Xiao is very well balanced against the Budapest forces, who clearly enjoy the rich tonal palette on display…this project is about a neglected composer’s writing for a neglected instrument, and has to be considered a success on all counts. Awesome. © 2013 Classical Net Read complete review

Elaine Fine
American Record Guide, November 2013

The solo playing is spectacular on all counts. © 2013 American Record Guide Read complete review on American Record Guide

David Hurwitz, July 2013

Bloch’s Viola Suite, Chinese finale and all, is arguably the best work for viola and orchestra in the repertoire. It is melodically haunting, emotionally wide-ranging, thematically integrated—despite being called a “suite” it’s really a full-blown four-movement symphony—and gorgeously scored.

This performance, by superb viola soloist Hong-Mei Xiao, is as fine as any on disc, and there have been quite a few. She demonstrates all the classical virtues of superior string playing: warm tone, excellent intonation (even in double-stops), and vocal, cantabile phrasing. Her arrangement of Baal Shem (originally composed for violin) is wholly persuasive, and both this and the late (1951) Suite hébraïque combine with the Viola Suite to present a winning portrait of this still-neglected master of the orchestra. Kudos also to Mariusz Smolij and the Budapest players who accompany with evident sympathy and who, assisted in no small degree by Naxos’ engineers, keep the orchestral parts clear and well-balanced. An excellent disc. © Read complete review

David Denton
David's Review Corner, June 2013

There have been many fine viola recordings released in the past two decades, but this one from Hong-Mei Xiao is very much in a league of excellence all of its own. Born in China, she came to worldwide attention in 1987 when winning the Geneva International Music Competition. Since then she has enjoyed a major career as a concert soloist, her recordings having included Bartók’s Viola Concerto in its original and revised versions for Naxos. Here she has chosen a programme of music by Ernest Bloch linked with his love of Judaism in its contribution to culture. None are originally for viola and orchestra, the closest we come is the Suite first heard in its version for viola and piano. At times it is ecstatic in mood, the viola sweeping upwards as if a bird in flight, the technical hurdles simply swept aside, Xiao’s viola producing the most gorgeous sounds. Baal Shem is one of his best known works, and was conceived for violin and piano, the original accompaniment later orchestrated and now arranged by the soloist for viola. As her instrument has a violin quality high in the register, the change is hardly noticeable. Finally to the Suite hébraïque which contains three of the five movements originally designed as Five Jewish Pieces for viola and piano. They were published for violin and orchestra, but here revert back to the original viola. If I would commend the disc for the viola playing, I would then go on to say that it is one of the most idiomatic and colourful orchestral discs of Bloch I have yet encountered. Add the excellence of the recording and you have my fervent recommendation. © David’s Review Corner

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