Paul McCartney, shown accepting his Classical Brit Award for Ecce Cor Meum in May, said it's a 'pleasant surprise' to have the piece performed in Canada. ((Ian West/Associated Press))

Ecce Cor Meum, the classical oratorio former Beatle Paul McCartney wrote for his late wife Linda, will make its Canadian debut Friday in London, Ont., with a performance featuring more than 230 singers.

It is only the third performance worldwide for the choral piece, which won the best album award at the Classical Brits this May.

Four choirs — Chorus Niagara of St. Catharines, London Pro Musica, Amabile Boys Concert Choir, also ofLondon,and Orpheus Choir of Toronto — are banding together to present the piece in London, St. Catharines and Toronto.

McCartney started writing Ecce Cor Meum (Behold My Heart) while his first wife, Linda, was alive, but put it aside after she died of breast cancer.

He eventually finished the piece and recorded it in 2006, scoring a classical hit in the U.K. and U.S.

Chorus Niagara's artistic director Robert Cooper was instrumental in getting rights to the work in Canada.

"This piece has legs," Cooper said. "It has the compositional craft and musical character to be considered classical, while it also has the musical language that is very appealing and accessible."

It was McCartney's fourth classical composition and marked an advance on earlier classical works, Cooper said.

"You can tell right away he knows how to write better for the choir, he knows how to express ideas musically more effectively in these large forums. There's a big difference between a three-minute song and a 60-minute work."

It was performed for the first time by the Magdalene Choirand Kings College boys choirwith the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields at Royal Albert Hall in London.

It had its American debut at Carnegie Hall Nov. 14, 2006 in a concert performed by Concert Chorale of New York and the American Boychoir and broadcast by National Public Radio.

The choral piece calls for a boy's choir and adult chorus and Cooper recruited choirs in Toronto and London to perform it here in Canada.

A middle instrumental segment called Interlude is a powerful passage that is particularly moving for the audience and the performers, Cooper said.

"We're not talking Shakespeare, we're talking words that touch people directly and immediately. In the choir, one gentleman's wife has become extremely ill, and he can hardly get through the rehearsal sometimes because of these words."

McCartney, 65, now struggling through divorce from his second wife, sent greetings to the Canadian performers.

"It's always a pleasant surprise to think that someone would compliment me and my music in this way," he wrote in a letter.

"I wish you the greatest of evenings and although I will not be able to get there in person, I certainly will be there in spirit."

Ecce Cor Meum is to be performed Friday at Metropolitan United Church in London, Nov. 3 at Yorkminister Baptist Church in Toronto and Nov. 4 at Lake Street Armoury in St. Catharines.

With files from the Canadian Press