Chamber

Gentle outreach of old to new, fluidity and suddenness, dissonance and chromatics.. Find a recording.

String Quartet No.2 (2015)
  • “One of the events of my musical year. Immediately engaging, lucid, strong and memorable..”
    “..the most memorable of the new things I experienced was a string quartet by Joseph Phibbs, which was the centrepiece of an outstanding recital by the Navarra Quartet- an ensemble who play with the best kind of nervous energy and freewheeling excitement. Phibbs’s quartet require nothing less: it was exhilarating, vibrant, curiously but effectively structured, and an unequivocal success on terms that brand new chamber music rarely manages”
    “..arrestingly fine”
    Michael White, Classical Music Magazine/The Catholic Herald/Hampstead Highgate Express

  • An evanescent introduction with wispy upper string figurations vaulted over a lengthy sustained low pedal note in the cello paved the way for a slower main section which juxtaposed a series of triadic chords with expressive solo writing. Following without a pause, the second movement introduced folk elements in its recurring rhythmic and melodic ideas. A brief but delightful, intermezzo-like episode entitled ‘Chitarra’ included guitar-like pizzicato strumming. In the finale, the work’s essentially lyrical nature was given full rein with a direct and memorable theme set against a number of short, contrasting passages. As the work finished, some bravura activity at the ensemble’s upper register mirrored the vertiginous opening gestures.
    This quartet, following hard on the heels of the composer’s first contribution to the genre, was an impressive achievement. Phibbs demonstrated a firm grasp of the medium’s innate capacity for dialogue. All four members of the Navarra Quartet audibly savoured the superior score they had been gifted with playing of great verve and refinement.
    Paul Conway, Musical Opinion (October 2015)

  • The highlight of the evening was the premiere of the Second String Quartet by Joseph Phibbs – a regularly featured composer at the festival. Phibbs composed his First Quartet last year at the age of 40 and the old 250-year-old medium of the quartet has clearly gripped his imagination. His new quartet caused quite a sensation with the audience. From the delicate lightness of its opening, the music ranged through a dream-like fantasy world, moving from fragile glass-like textures one moment, through to furious storm-like episodes, evaporating as quickly as they arose.
    Peter Reynolds, The Hereford Times (August 2015)

  • Saturday evening’s world premiere, in a brilliantly convincing performance by the Navarra Quartet, was of Joseph Phibbs’ String Quartet No 2, a superbly crafted work, logically structured and resourcefully scored, with several telling solos accompanied by the others in a sort of sustained, watching brief. Although Phibbs offers no programmatic description, his thematic material and rhythms in the opening stages often suggest the natural world, especially birds and insects. But as the music progresses it takes on a much darker hue, culminating in a Lento affettuoso that begins with a poignant lament and develops into a tortuously intense and extremely powerful climax. Very effective indeed.
    David Hart, The Birmingham Post (September 2015)

String Quartet No.1 (2014)
  • “…an amazingly wide range of colourful blendings of string tone. What struck me above all listening to this piece was the sheer originality of Phibbs’s writing…very attractive and intriguing listening. Every one of the players was given his or her chance to shine. They [Piatti Quartet] all made the most of it in this dazzlingly fine performance.”
    Aberbeen Chamber Music Series, February 2017

  • “filled with moments of elegiac eloquence. The piece combined hymn-like string holds and whispers of light pizzicatos with deep strums of cello and viola that concluded with a swell of string crescendo and salute, like fiery embers thrown into a night sky.”
    Nelson Brill, Nordost, August 2016

  • “There are string quartets equal in beauty to the one by former Stucky student Joseph Phibbs but none are more beautiful. Astonished listeners exchanged comments like “stunning” and “marvellous.” But describing its sonorities and rhythms would not convey what made it the real thing. Gentle outreach of old to new, fluidity and suddenness, dissonance and chromatics.. Find a recording” [US Premiere, 2016]
    Leslie Kandell, Classical Voice America, July 2016

  • “..the most notable event of the night, placed before the interval, and exciting animated discussion after, was the first string quartet by the young British composer Joseph Phibbs. The work itself, about 24 minutes long, proved remarkable indeed. The first of its five movements is of extreme simplicity and quietude, the intensity of the playing compelling the audience’s attention and doing so throughout. The ‘con forza’ second movement is powerful, almost aggressive. A calmer section follows and the third movement has testing ‘pizzicato’ from each of the instrumentalists, while the fourth movement contains unresolved emotion, reflected in the music’s considerable perturbation. The final ‘vocalise’ returns us to the stillness of the beginning, with sustained notes finally concluding ambiguously with either calm or desolation, perhaps both. Nathaniel Anderson-Frank and Michael Trainor (violins), David Wigram (viola) and Jessie Ann Richardson (‘cello) played this deeply affecting music with total commitment and outstanding skill; I, for one, found this quartet completely absorbing, full of mystery and beauty”
    Alexander Stiller, Rye News, October 2014

  • “…formally exhilarating yet plangent…[a] combination of vibrancy and rigour: a tradition stretching from Purcell to Britten to Colin Matthews”
    Paul Driver, The Sunday Times

NMC Debut Disc: The Canticle of the Rose (2013)
  • “Phibbs’s sheer accomplishment as a composer is unmistakable here. Every idea is telling, every phrase beautiful.”
    Paul Driver, The Sunday Times

  • “These works draw you in with a well-judged pacing of their sometimes frenetic activity and mesmerizing stillness… [In] the final two songs of The Canticle of the Rose for soprano and string quartet Phibbs’s music is seemingly transfixed by the text, especially as performed by Helen-Jane Howells and the Navarra String Quartet. It would have been obvious, easy even, to end there, but the fateful scurrying of ‘Madam Mouse Trots’ effectively opens the work out again. Another song cycle, From Shore to Shore, is equally effective, with Michael Chance’s countertenor and James Boyd’s guitar combined in unhackneyed lyricism, while the shorter pieces are also well worth exploring.”
    Christopher Dingle, BBC Music Magazine (2014)

  • “..a composer of great skill. Music that is very enjoyable to listen to… not in thrall to an ‘ism’- not modernist, not post-modernist, not minimalist, but prepared to take inspiration from all three- synthesizing musical languages which are very much of today”
    Bernard Hughes, Tempo (2014)

  • “Phibbs has been noted in the contemporary scene for his vibrant and emotional language, virtuosic instrumental writing, and the great tonal richness of his scores; music that seems to take up the legacy of Britten, but with echoes of Monteverdi and Purcell, especially in his vocal works, including the visionary The Canticle of the Rose (2005) which gives the title to this CD (soprano Helen-Jane Howells is very good, drawing on a wide range of expression). The CD contains more song cycles that showcase the skill of the performers: the countertenor Michael Chance in The Moon’s Funeral and From Shore to Shore, a work accompanied by guitar and full of lyricism and marine suggestions. The young tenor Ben Alden sings the sensitive, expressive Two Songs from Shades of Night (2012)… Agea, a miniature for strings, is frenetic and virtuosic, with expressive solos for the violin; and Flex for piano, flute, violin and cello, is a brilliant piece exploring the various combinations of timbre between the four instruments, with echoes of a Baroque sonata.”
    Gianluigi Mattietti, Golem (2014)


Bar Veloce (2011)
  • “as colourful and woozily jazzy as you’d expect from a piece structured around 12 cocktails- from Tequila Sunrise to Manhattan. In Ocean Breeze, cymbals and tambourine fluttered over a wave-like melody; Kamikaze feautured a vertiginous xylophone descent before a fierce drum duel. The elfin Glennie dated with balletic grace around her kit, a facial expression for every snap ,crackle and pop. The music was playful – Stravinsky meets Tom and Jerry- the orchestral instruments augmented by handclaps, whistles, a fire siren and, of course, cocktail shakers. But there was beauty, too, the ethereal lowing of the halo, a steel pan-like instrument, mingling with harp and plucked strings”
    John Bungey, The Times

  • “The percussion concerto can all too easily degenerate into a parade of the percussionist’s colourful toy-box, but Phibbs slyly turned this to advantage in his piece, which was a musical portrait of twelve different cocktails.”
    Ivan Hewett, The Telegraph

  • “Adding a second percussionist, Joseph Phibbs’ Bar Veloce emerged as a colourful kaleidoscope of changing images. Using traditional percussion alongside everyday items such as cocktail shakers, matches and coins it transformed 12 named cocktails into an audio-visual wassail. From the gentle “spreading” of sound as the world awoke in Tequila Sunrise to a vibrant, jaunty journey through Manhattan this was an “audience-puller”. “
    Jill Bacon, The Gloucestershire Echo

Night Interludes (2011)
  • “Better nourishment arrived in Thursday’s opening concert with Joseph Phibbs’s succulently expressive Night Interludes, cleanly dispatched by Vass and the Prestiegne Festival Orchestra”
    Geoff Brown, The Times

  • “the product of an ear well-attuned to earlier string masterpieces, with many expressive nuances”
    Christopher Morley, The Birmingham Post

FLEX (2007)
  • “A nimble work that brims with nervous energy…The music propels strongly forward, never quite settling down for a rest. Lightening fast runs swirl about the musical texture and transform, often unexpectedly, into long, heavy phrases before taking off again in a flurry of gnarly riffs…Given its uncharacteristic form and fine, attention-grabbing craftsmanship, one hopes it will receive many repeated performances.”
    Aaron Keebaugh, Boston Classical Review

  • “..a direct dance influence.. rhythmic fragments constantly reiterated but never repetitive, traded between and ricocheted from one player to another. Phibbs has a strong sense of color, and the players exploited the writing to the fullest: Boldin in particular coaxed a world of color from her flute and piccolo. Popper-Keizer and Lee’s subtly shaded long tones gave to the slow concluding section a compelling timbral interest even as the musical material petered out.”
    Brian Schuth, The Boston Musical Intelligencer

Agea (2007)
  • “When four minutes bring such concentrated thought as Joseph Phibbs’s Agea, who’s measuring? The French players of the Psophos Quartet, probably the best young string group in Europe, attacked this miniature fantasy on three notes with passion, faultless intonation, and ensemble precision”
    Geoff Brown, The Times

The Canticle of the Rose (2005)
  • “The link between Ernest Chausson, gloomiest and most refined of late Romantics, and Joseph Phibbs, young product of the British new-music hot house turned out to be the spell cast by the poetry they chose. [The] words that Chausson set… were matched by Edith Sitwell’s deathly visions in The Canticle of the Rose, Phibbs’ new work and the latest in a series of commissions made for the Wigmore by Nicholas and Judith Goodison and using the surprisingly rare medium of string quartet and voice.When followers of music think of Sitwell, it’s usually the arch and contrived words of William Walton’s flippant Facade. There was a degreee of overlap here, but Through Gilded Trellises took on an edgier tone in the context of meditations about destruction, centred on Sitwell’s response to the first use of an atomic bomb.The music began aggressively, inflecting one note and its closest neighbour with a hint of flamenco. It spread out into a scampering pattern, instruments staying close together, and subsiding into the slow first song, which grew from a monotone towards an eloquent introduction of the texts’ central image, the rose with the darkening heart. It isn’t always in a new piece that the vocal line – as relished here by Lisa Milne – is more memorable than its accompaniment. This was the most striking setting, at least until the fifth with its high, Britten-like threefold repetition of “shine” Elsewhere the intricacy and variety of quartet writing stole the attention. The Belcea gave the work a concentrated, finely prepared performance.”
    Robert Maycock, The Independent

  • “..such energy and musical density…. Madam Mouse Trots, what appears to be the most trivial text, acquires an ironic brittleness”
    Andrew Clements, The Guardian

The Dawn Breakers (2005)
  • “Phibbs’ succinct score for chamber strings and single wind never failed to engage either senses or mind. Like flickers of light at the outer edges of a misty horizon which gradually coalesce, the thematic material- always idiomatically conceived- became more vivid with successive appearances. The rising frenzy of the second movement was particularly striking, finally breaking off sharply to clear the air. The expectation and tight aural focus so astutely created in that movement was rewarded with the ensuing lucidity of clarinet, muted trumpet and flute. An impression of a carefully contained but intense piece was confirmed on second hearing.”
    Rian Evans, The Guardian

La Noche Arrolladora (2002)
  • “Phibbs is a young composer intent on building a soundworld of his own…he has a vivid imagination…[and] made use of this unusual ensemble in a most effective way…A most auspicious Proms debut..”
    David Wordsworth, The Classical Source

  • “..takes on the potential of the harpsichord with imagination and spirit…It is a fantastic piece…memorable for the variety of timbres produced in the ensemble…the evocation of the fantastical title is seductive”
    Christa Norton, Musicweb

Rituals Songs and Blessings (2002)
  • “…a beautifully constructed composition…[among] the best brand-new pieces I’ve heard at Spitalfields for some time”
    Keith Potter, The Independent

Char Fragments (1999)
  • “…aphoristic as the rest of the programme, confirmed the promise of earlier works…packed with vividly scored ideas and hardly putting a foot wrong formally”
    Andrew Clements, The Guardian