The Portland Symphony Orchestra’s concert Tuesday night at Merrill Auditorium was a study in contrasts.

The first half contrasted the menacing “Doctor Atomic” Symphony of John Adams with Aaron Copland’s “The Tender Land” Suite – two wildly different pieces of Americana, while the second half was devoted to the quintessence of late Romanticism, the Tchaikovsky Concerto in D Major for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 36, with Jennifer Koh as soloist.

“Dr. Atomic” sounds like a comic book, but Adams’ symphony, based on his opera about the final development of the atomic bomb, is deadly serious, using every resource of the orchestra to create an atmosphere of doom. Even its quiet moments are alarming, as if the beast in the cellar is being held by the weakest of chains.

Its problem is that it goes on far too long without relief, so that the “boom” at the end comes as an anticlimax. The orchestra, under music director Robert Moody, played it brilliantly, perhaps inspired by Fukushima.

It was contrasted with Aaron Copland’s portrayal of nature in a friendlier mood, but “The Tender Land,”  a written-for-TV opera, is not “Appalachian Spring.”

(The above is a partial review. The full text will appear in the Thursday edition of The Portland Press Herald.)