Menacing, comforting, magic-tinged, powerful and fragile all in one.
Charlotte Gardner 2010
There aren't many film series that reach a seventh installment without having lost their sense of momentum. Harry Potter falls into that illustrious bracket though, and a big part of the magic is down to its music. That lilting, whimsical, slightly sinister little phrase, penned for the first film by composer John Williams, must surely be one of the best-known cinematic themes ever written.
Alexandre Desplat is the fourth composer invited to write a Potter soundtrack. A three-times Oscar nominee, his previous film scores include The Golden Compass and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. In a nice instance of events coming full circle, the orchestrator is Conrad Pope, who worked on the first three films with John Williams. It's a formidable writing team, and both must feel as though they've accomplished what they set out to achieve. Pope's orchestration is a work of genius, hightening the music's drama with a myriad of different instrumental colours, from recorders and theorbo (a plucked, lute-like instrument), to ethnic percussion and a shakuhachi (a Japanese end-blown flute). The score itself is equally affective – menacing, comforting, magic-tinged, powerful and fragile all in one. It's particularly striking for its smooth beauty, which remains present even when painting scenes dripping with evil or fraught with pain.
So far, so very good. However, there is one single but sizeable question mark over whether this recording is going to completely hit the spot for Potter fans. This is a work more intent on painting an atmosphere than in giving the listener motivic handles on which to grasp. The famous theme itself is used sparingly. This means that, whilst there's no question that Desplat's music evokes the menacing, increasingly dangerous world of Harry Potter with beauty and dramatic precision, it's slightly debateable as to whether it works as an effective piece in isolation from the film. Perhaps the answer to that will be down to personal taste.