So far as most of the music-loving public is concerned, there is just one Max Bruch violin concerto, and the Concerto No. 3 in D minor for violin and orchestra, Op. 58, is not it. Many fine violinists, in fact, go their whole lives without knowing that this piece even exists. Bruch's Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26, has long been a standard of the violin repertory; the Concerto No. 2 in D minor, Op. 44, is its occasionally played cousin. The Concerto No. 3 (1890-1891), is, on the other hand, a musical unicorn: since it has almost never been played, its existence is for many the stuff only of musicological folklore.
However, Bruch and the Concerto No. 3's dedicatee, violinist Joseph Joachim, were always fond of the piece, despite its lack of commercial and popular success. Bruch originally wrote just a single movement, an Allegro (now the first movement); but Joachim convinced him to compose two further movements and make a full three-movement piece of it.
The opening Allegro energico is firm and rigid -- steel-rimmed, if you will -- to a degree not often heard in Bruch's music. There is little in Bruch's earlier two violin concertos to compare with the climactic recapitulation of the Concerto No. 3's first movement: here, the snare-drum-like main theme in triplets heard at the beginning of the movement is positively beaten into submission by a fortissimo tutti -- the orchestra seems almost a percussion battery, and listeners are left stunned that Bruch, master melodist and a man generally thought to have been not "edgy" enough to leave a real mark on music history, could be so forceful.
This opening movement has three themes, the first two of which work together as the primary theme-group in D minor. The third is a sweet-toned thing in quiet A major, ingratiating with its quarter note neighbor note figures; in concert-sonata formal terms, it counts as not a "third," but a "second" theme. The solo violin enters after a moderate-sized opening tutti, spinning an obbligato web around the first two themes, which have already been offered by the orchestra, flying up and down the fingerboard in the electrifying way that Bruch loved so much.
The second movement, Adagio, is an instrumental song in B flat major. Its tempo may be slower and its tone gentler than the first movement's, but the violinist's fingers must move just as fast: much of the Adagio is played out in thirty-second notes, again taking the form of a filigree in and around the thread of melody played by orchestra.
For a finale, Bruch composed a snappy Allegro molto with a staccatissimo main tune. A sumptuous melodic idea featuring the kind of rich parallel sixths in the finale of the Concerto No. 2 serves as a contrasting second theme. It is, of course, the fiery opening idea that gets the honor of closing the concerto.