I heard this Rachmaninov First in concert over the summer and was struck by Milan-born Gianandrea Noseda. He's a musical conductor who has brought the BBC Phil. up to a good level. His reading of the First Sym. was energetic, splashy, and romantic in an uncomplicated way that didn't reflect upon the composer's introverted melancholy. There's no such thing as upbeat Rachmaninov (he's the definition of borscht and ters), but Noseda comes close.
The First Sym. was one of the most famous catastrophes in musical history, the premiere collapsing under the baton of a supposedly drunk Glazunov, and reviewers comparing the score to the ten biblical plagues of Egypt. The composr went into a deep depression that lasted for three years. There are two kinds of readings of the First on disc: ssuave cosmopolitan ones that smooth out the score's rambling, discursive structure so that it sounds beauitful from bar to bar -- in between stretches of dog paddling there are gorgeous melodies -- and Soviet-era ones that emphasize brash energy and thrust. Vladimir Ashkenazy on Decca exemplifies the first approach, Yevgeny Svetlanov on Moscow Studio the second.
Noseda tilts more toward the suave type. Thanks to Chandos's ravishing sonics, the recording is sumptuous in terms of color and timbre -- you can smell the fumes of an Oriental houkah in the sinuous Larghetto. Noseda isn't the last word in propulsiveness, but he doesn't need to be. The filler is an account of 'The Isle of the Dead' that downplays the tone poem's grimness, making it sound more like Sibelius and less like a suiicide note.