VALENTINO DANCES, Music of Dominick Argento. Eiji Oue, conductor, with the Minnesota Orchestra (Reference Recordings). Recorded on 24-bit HDCD equipment, this disc, brilliantly engineered by Keith O. Johnson (inventor of HDCD encoding), combines demonstration-class sonics with definitive performances of engaging contemporary classical music. This is as good as "conventional" CD sound gets. Known especially for his operas, American-born Dominick Argento (b. 1927) serves as both composer laureate of the Minnesota Orchestra and Regents' Professor at the University of Minneapolis. Argento's decidedly modern, easily accessible style won him the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for his song cycle From the Diary of Virginia Wolf. The disc opens with its most engaging and likeable piece, Valentino Dances, a 1997 extraction of original tangos from an Argento opera. Three other compositions deal with death and resurrection. These include a 1998 Minnesota Orchestra commission, Reverie, Reflections on a Hymn Tune, whose reflections upon the 1784 German hymn Ellacombe end with a tremendous climax; Le Tombeau d'Edgar Poe, which features several "Annabel Lee" poetry fragments sung by Chad Shelton; and the 27-minute four-movement A Ring of Time: Preludes and Pageants for Orchestra and Bells, whose eerie music contains a wealth of stunning gongs and percussion. While much of this music reflects late 20th-century angst, the sonics are cause for rejoicing. If you don't hear a difference in the sound of this disc when compared to others, consider visiting a high-end audio store or Web site and giving your sound system an upgrade. You deserve to hear the heart and soul of this finely crafted, intriguing music.