If it's not a consensus that the Brits are the best at playing and arranging Christmas carols, it should be. This disc features some of England's greatest composers' own arrangements and original compositions, all of which are undeniable charming and festive. In almost every case, the music is so good that I'm amazed at how little attention it has received, particularly in the case of the Vaughan Williams and Finzi. The harmonic texture of these composers fits in perfectly with the music, adding lots of interests to the carols.
Opening the disc is Holst's "Christmas Day" which uses such "Good Christian Men Rejoice" and "God Rest You Merry Gentleman". Holst succeeds in adding a symphonic element to his arrangement without taking away from the festivity of the carols--he adds to it, in fact. (Yes, Holst didn't just write the Planets!)
Finzi's "In Terra Pax" is in a category all of its own, as it is all original to Finzi. A talented man who sadly died rather young, he as a style all his own, wandering and nostalgic. This Christmas scene is one of the best compositions I've heard from him (he didn't write that many). It's not as directly festive in nature as most of the other works on this disc, but it is wonderful all the same. Certainly it is the most dramatic work on this disc; the description of the angels greeting the shepherds captures the terror that the shepherds must have felt. But most gripping are the moments when Finzi lets his lyrical side take over. The music sinks deep into your soul.
Warlock's "3 Carols" are delightful arrangements, very catchy. Unlike Finzi, Warlock is about as festive as you can get, incorporating elements of pure fun. It's tough to resist indulging in such joyful music.
Vaughan Williams' "Folksongs of Winter" may very well be the greatest work on the whole disc. No one else can arrange carols as naturally as he can. He sticks some of his own original material in, and it blends so well with the traditional tunes that you can almost forget which it is. Vaughan Williams manages to be bright and cheery while still keeping his famous pastoral quality, something that seems to come effortlessly for him. In any event, this set is worth the price of the whole disc.
The Bournemouth Symphony under Hilary Davan Wetton performs all the works wonderfully. Naxos' sound quality is great.
In closing, this is a wonderful disc that you should grab if you want to explore a more "Classical" Christmas. I've certainly been very impressed.