This work from late in Max Bruch's career, though written when atonality and dissonance were coming to the fore, is very much music of the Romantic age, or at least of the period's more classically reserved, Brahmsian element. Bruch avoids sharp contrasts and dramatic outbursts; he seems to be taking his cue from the similarities between the two solo instruments, whose ranges are practically identical.
It's the viola that gets the first word in the opening Andante con moto, in a short, rhapsodic passage punctuated by orchestral chords. The clarinet then voices the same material itself, and the two instruments begin to intertwine. But the clarinet utters the first statement of the movement's true principal theme, a long, slow, autumnal melody. Bruch then undertakes a pattern of phrase trading between the soloists, rounding off the movement's subsections with small duets. The composer basically employs sonata form, but the structure is obscured by the slow harmonic and metrical motion; the music seems more rhapsodic than it really is.
Although marked Allegro molto, the second movement sounds no faster than the first, thanks to Bruch's reliance on longer-held notes. The soloists here work in duet far more consistently than in the first movement. Again, the writing is highly lyrical, although it lacks truly memorable melodies. Pizzicato accompaniment brings a little more animation to the movement's second episode, although the solo lines remain long and maintain a nostalgic feeling. The first section returns in full, and what initially seems to be a reappearance of the second section turns out to be merely a coda.
The concluding Allegro molto promises more vigor with its opening brass fanfares and swirling string figures, the latter soon picked up by the soloists in turn. If the slow movement at times suggested late Richard Strauss, particularly the later composer's Duet Concertino, the more outgoing portions of this movement seem to have influenced the early symphonies of Franz Schmidt. These animated passages, spurred on by the orchestra, alternate with slightly more subdued sections showcasing the soloists, who work through busy material derived from the opening section.