Alexandre Desplat is the fourth composer to take on the Harry
Potter franchise. The first film was scored by John Williams,
whose themes and motifs created a musical identity for the fantasy
world. After Williams, Patrick Doyle and Nicholas Hooper each
did stints, both doing their best to move away from the thematically
saturated score of the original. Desplat continues in that vein;
the links between his score and that of The Philosopher’s
Stone are tenuous to say the least. The OST album includes
just two unadulterated statements of the 'Harry Potter Theme'.
The music does make subtle references to it elsewhere, but you'd
be unlikely to clock them with the distractions of a film going
on at the same time.
The gradual evolution of the soundtracks to the Harry Potter
films reflects the narrative progression of the story. If the
music is anything to go by, this will be a very dark and psychological
outing. The music is impressively sophisticated, and if I didn't
know, I wouldn't have guessed that it is for a children's film.
But it is Hollywood music too, and while the atmosphere is often
intense, the actual musical textures are usually quite straightforward.
The quality of the music is demonstrated by Desplat's ability
to create the maximum effect from the minimum of musical material.
So climaxes are often scored with heavy tremolo arpeggios in
the strings (almost, but not quite minimalism), and the quieter
sections make impressive use of solo flute and piano. The sound
of the flute is a distinctive feature of this score, often playing
quietly in the lower register and over a bed of slowly moving
It is difficult to identify any new themes that Desplat may
be introducing. He is in a bit of a Catch 22 joining the franchise
at this late stage, in that he is obliged to move away from
John Williams' themes, but doesn't really have the license to
introduce any of his own. The result is music that focuses more
on atmosphere than identity. Most listeners will have the advantage
over me of having already seen the film, and the visual associations
will probably make the experience of listening to this considerably
less abstract. I don't know if the album presents the music
in the order that it appears in the film, but whether it does
or not, the disc seems to be front-loaded, with all the dramatic
and memorable music in the first twenty minutes or so.
It is all too rare these days to hear a studio recording by
the London Symphony Orchestra. Most of their appearances on
CD in recent years have been on their LSO Live label, all of
which are live recordings of concerts, mostly recorded in the
acoustically sullen Barbican Hall. The studio situation is also
acoustically inert, but there is a little more scope here to
alter and focus the sound at the post-production stage. The
results are richer and timbrally more complex than on most of
the LSO Live recordings, showing that a little bit of jiggery-pokery
at the editing stage is not necessarily such a bad thing.
Of all the orchestras in the UK to hire for film music sessions,
the LSO has to be one of the most expensive. So do the results
justify the expenditure? Well, in my opinion they have the best
string section of any London orchestra, and the strings certainly
impress here. They have excellent unity of ensemble and a timbre
that is both open and rich. The dark, sinister textures often
rely heavily on the cellos and basses, who, as on the concert
stage, really make the most of every opportunity to shine. The
woodwind, brass, percussion and harp are all heard at one point
or another but none of them are ever put to any particularly
interesting use. Again, it is a case of maximum effect from
minimum notes on the page.
So all round, not a bad Hollywood film soundtrack at all. Buyers
of the disc are able to download a surround sound version of
the album, which is a nice touch, and should appeal to those
movie lovers whose audio system is set up specifically to watch
films. In fact, as this is primarily atmosphere music, having
it coming at you from all sides should add considerably to the