Friendship. There are many who believe that's what Elgar had reference to when he spoke of the "larger theme" that pervades his "Enigma" Variations of 1899 - hence its subtitle.

It may also have been the theme of this past weekend's Utah Symphony concerts, judging from the program they finally came up with.Certainly music director Joseph Silverstein's love of Mozart, and Elgar, is well known. Thus the evening began with the former's "Haffner" Symphony, originally turned out in 1782 to mark the elevation of a former Salzburg patron of that name to the nobility.

Friday's performance was festive enough, particularly in the minuet, here unusally hearty, and the hurtling energy of the finale. Otherwise what stood out was the somber grace of the second-movement Andante, dancelike but spacious and very lightly trilled.

Friendship also played a role in the inclusion of the second piece on the program, the "Evocaciones" for violin and orchestra of Puerto Rican-born Roberto Sierra.

First, because the work itself was commissioned by this orchestra along with the Pittsburgh and West Virginia symphonies. And second, because a prime mover in its creation, and the soloist on this occasion, was another old comrade, former Utah Symphony concertmaster Andres Cardenes - now concertmaster in Pittsburgh - in his first solo outing with this orchestra in more than a decade.

Friday the old spark was still evident, in a brilliantly seductive reading of this Latin-influenced score. I wouldn't have minded more snap in the rhythms of the first-movement "Rapsodico," with its sharply dissonant opening chords, but that was mainly a conductorial problem. Because Cardenes' playing was notable throughout for its suavity and fire, something also true of the lyrically mournful "Profundo," with its unbroken concentration and eerily hushed harmonics, and the syncopated flash of the concluding "Caprichoso," which had about it an almost Prokofievian flair.

Silverstein likewise pulled things together more convincingly here - a good thing, as these seem to me the piece's strongest sections.

And though I have heard more impactive performances of the "Enigma" Variations, following intermission these also emerged as an expansive paean to friendship, in this case Elgar's for the friends cryptically enobled in the piece's subsections, and Utah's for the UK.

For originally this program was to have concluded with Mendelssohn - the "Midsummer Night's Dream" music - the Elgar having been rung in when word came of Lady Margaret Thatcher's visit here last week.

As it turned out, she was not present Friday. But the spirit of England was, whether in the affectionate depiction of Elgar's wife ("C.A.E."), the bulldoglike bumptiousness of "Troyte" or the Victorian grandeur of the finale - generally acknowledged to represent the composer himself.

As in the past, however, the heart of this "Enigma" beat in its "Nimrod" - a tribute to Elgar's publisher, A.J. Jaeger - whose hushed deliberation gradually built to a climax of sweep and trancendency.

Which, I suppose, is what friendship itself often does - when it's for real.