I should begin by saying my expectations were not that high for DHP2 based on Desplat's efforts for DHP1. Whilst it worked well within the film, I felt the score was somewhat lacking on CD. I was therefore pleasantly surprised at the vast improvement of DHP2.
The main new theme which opens the album is Lily's Theme, which contains some haunting female vocals and sounds absolutely wonderful. This theme is reprised several times. One of the criticisms of DHP1 was that Desplat is not the best writer of action music - a point which I agree with based on his previous work for The Golden Compass, which I just didn't feel was effective. That said, in DHP2, this contains the best action writing I have heard from Desplat. Most of the action tracks sound brilliant. I particularly liked the theme in "Statues" with the orchestra, percussion and choir slowly in the first half of the track. Additionally, a lot of the less action based tracks are also of high quality and maintained my interest throughout. The only real disappointment was the rather tame finale track "A New Beginning". It is very anti-climatic, with some sombre strings and no real reference to any previous theme. It did leave me feeling slightly cold. I would have loved a great version of Hedwig's Theme to close the album, or even an end credits suite.
On a production note, Desplat always chooses to have a very dry mix with little reverb present. In my opinion, whilst this might work well in some films, the lack of reverb in DHP2 reduces the sense of scale and makes the orchestra sound smaller than it actually is. It's a shame because his writing and orchestrations are of very high quality, and a bit of reverb would actually give a sense of physical depth in the music that would push it to a new level. On a similar note, there are many tracks where a choir is present, however it is so quiet in the mix that it is barely noticeable. The whole CD seems to be fairly quiet though - you will have to turn the volume up loud to get it to a satisfactory level.
The Harry Potter film franchise has suffered from a lack of consistency in terms of composers, with each bringing their own unique musical style to the table. Apart from Williams' iconic Hedwig's theme, most of the other themes that were written by subsequent composers have fallen by the wayside. I personally think this was a shame, because there were some absolute beauties (for example "Harry In Winter" from Doyle's Goblet of Fire) that could have been incorporated into the later films. Like in the previous films, there are statements of Hedwig's theme in several tracks, however they are all "darker" variations which is fitting for the tone of the film. I have also read that Hooper's theme for Dumbledore from Half Blood Prince is present within the film and is very effective - however when I did not notice this on the CD which is unfortunate.
The CD runs in at 68 minutes, and I thought this was a decent length. As with any score release, there will always be music missing that you might have preferred, but I thought the balance of action tracks and slower emotive tracks was just right.
Overall, I think that DHP2 is a vast improvement over DHP1. Desplat's action writing has definitely improved, and the tone for the more emotional tracks is first class. I do believe that it would have benefited from having more reverb though. I genuinely think those who thought DHP1 was lacking would consider DHP2 to be a vast improvement. Whether it will be enough to satisfy the fans who loved John William's scores for the first three films is open to debate, and even Patrick Doyle's brilliant effort for Goblet of Fire. What is present in this soundtrack however, is sufficient darkness, decent action writing, and a more "magical" element that I think is fitting for the final film. I do believe the score will be more effective in the film than on CD, but that said, despite some of the flaws, it does make for great standalone listen, and those sceptical about the suitability of Desplat for DHP2 should give it a chance - I was pleasantly surprised how much I liked it.